Is sugar to blame for obesity?

It seems that every year – or even every media cycle – there’s a new culprit when it comes to Australia’s growing problem with obesity.

A recent study has a whopping 11.2 million Australians identified as being overweight or obese. And, increasingly, health experts are pointing the finger at our consumption of sugar.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australians consumed an average of 60 grams of free sugars per day (equivalent to 14 teaspoons of white sugar) in 2011-12. 

The majority of free sugar intakes comes from added sugars with an average 52 grams (or 12 teaspoons), with 7 grams of free sugars coming from honey and fruit juice.

Additionally, 81 per cent of free sugars were consumed from energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods and beverages. Just over half (52 per cent) of free sugars in the diet were consumed from beverages, with the leading culprits being soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks (19 per cent), fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (13 per cent) and cordial (4.9 per cent). The leading foods were confectionary and cakes/muffins (each contributing 8.7 cent).

Just over half of all Australians aged two years and over exceeded the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to limit energy from free sugars. And 38 per cent of males and 35 per cent of females from 51 to 70 years exceeded the recommendation.

This information prompted the establishment of a public advisory board called SugarByHalf, which was co-founded by the doctor for the Australian Cricket Team, Professor Peter Brukner OAM, after speaking at a TEDmed event. Professor Bruckner says that sugar is one of the key culprits when it comes to piling on the extra kilos. SugarByHalf was formed in 2016 to create awareness and encourage Australians to avoid hidden sugars by reducing their intake of sugar by 50 per cent.


Dr Peter Brukner discusses the state of our health

“Australians are currently confused about what they should and shouldn’t be eating,” he says.

“We’re consistently bombarded with a range of different diets and I realised the one thing that all of these diets have in common is the reduction of added sugar. It’s the one thing we all need to reduce in our diet to address the epidemic rates of ill health we’re experiencing in Australia.”

SugarByHalf ambassador Rob Moodie, the Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne’s school of Population and Global Health, confirms that Australia has a problem with its sweet tooth.

“Cutting our added sugar by half is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way of reducing chronic disease,” he says.

“We need all sides of politics to take these issues seriously, to support effective policies and water down the junk-food and junk-drink industries that are undermining our health.”

The increase in sugar intake has also propelled the rise of type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes), which is also developing into a serious health problem for older Australians. Approximately 50% of all Australians with diabetes are aged 65 years or older, according to Diabetes Australia.

Diabetes is a condition which, over time, may cause damage to the body’s organs, blood vessels and nerves, including kidneys, feet, heart and eyes, so it's important to manage the condition, especially as you age.

Sounds hard? It doesn’t have to be. For health advice and sugar swap ideas to reduce your sugar consumption, visit www.SugarByHalf.com

Have you put on weight as you have got older? How do you manage to stay healthy? 

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